After a volcano erupts, a lake may form in the cooled crater and become an isolated aquatic ecosystem. This makes fishes in crater lakes informative for understanding sympatric evolution and ecological diversification in barren environments. From a geological and limnological perspective, such research offers insight about the process of crater lake ecosystem establishment and speciation. In the present study we use genetic and coalescence approaches to infer the colonization history of Midas cichlid fishes (Amphilophus cf. citrinellus) that inhabit a very young crater lake in Nicaragua-the ca. 1800 year-old Lake Apoyeque. This lake holds two sympatric, endemic morphs of Midas cichlid: one with large, hypertrophied lips (~20% of the total population) and another with thin lips. Here we test the associated ecological, morphological and genetic diversification of these two morphs and their potential to represent incipient speciation.
Gene coalescence analyses [11 microsatellite loci and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences] suggest that crater lake Apoyeque was colonized in a single event from the large neighbouring great lake Managua only about 100 years ago. This founding in historic times is also reflected in the extremely low nuclear and mitochondrial genetic diversity in Apoyeque. We found that sympatric adult thin- and thick-lipped fishes occupy distinct ecological trophic niches. Diet, body shape, head width, pharyngeal jaw size and shape and stable isotope values all differ significantly between the two lip-morphs. The eco-morphological features pharyngeal jaw shape, body shape, stomach contents and stable isotopes (δ15N) all show a bimodal distribution of traits, which is compatible with the expectations of an initial stage of ecological speciation under disruptive selection. Genetic differentiation between the thin- and thick-lipped population is weak at mtDNA sequence (FST = 0.018) and absent at nuclear microsatellite loci (FST < 0.001).
This study provides empirical evidence of eco-morphological differentiation occurring very quickly after the colonization of a new and vacant habitat. Exceptionally low levels of neutral genetic diversity and inference from coalescence indicates that the Midas cichlid population in Apoyeque is much younger (ca. 100 years or generations old) than the crater itself (ca. 1 800 years old). This suggests either that the crater remained empty for many hundreds of years after its formation or that remnant volcanic activity prevented the establishment of a stable fish population during the early life of the crater lake. Based on our findings of eco-morphological variation in the Apoyeque Midas cichlids, and known patterns of adaptation in Midas cichlids in general, we suggest that this population may be in a very early stage of speciation (incipient species), promoted by disruptive selection and ecological diversification.
The growing body of empirical evidence for sympatric speciation has been complemented by recent theoretical treatments that have identified evolutionary conditions conducive to speciation in sympatry. The Neotropical Midas cichlid (Amphilophus citrinellum) fits both of the key characteristics of these models, with strong assortative mating on the basis of a colour polymorphism coupled with trophic and ecological differentiation derived from a polymorphism in their pharyngeal jaws. We used microsatellite markers and a 480 bp fragment of the mitochondrial DNA control region to study four polymorphic populations of the Midas cichlid from three crater lakes and one large lake in Nicaragua in an investigation of incipient sympatric speciation. All populations were strongly genetically differentiated on the basis of geography. We identified strong genetic separation based on colour polymorphism for populations from Lake Nicaragua and one crater lake (Lake Apoyo), but failed to find significant genetic structuring based on trophic differences and ecological niche separation in any of the four populations studied. These data support the idea that sexual selection through assortative mating contributes more strongly or earlier during speciation in sympatry than ecological separation in these cichlids. The long-term persistence of divergent cichlid ecotypes (as measured by the percentage sequence divergence between populations) in Central American crater lakes, despite a lack of fixed genetic differentiation, differs strikingly from the patterns of extremely rapid speciation in the cichlids in Africa, including its crater lakes. It is unclear whether extrinsic environmental factors or intrinsic biological differences, e.g. in the degree of phenotypic plasticity, promote different mechanisms and thereby rates of speciation of cichlid fishes from the Old and New Worlds.
Cichlid fishes are remarkably phenotypically diverse and species-rich. Therefore, they provide an exciting opportunity for the study of the genetics of adaptation and speciation by natural and sexual selection. Here, we review advances in the genomics and transcriptomics of cichlids, particularly regarding ecologically relevant differences in body shape, trophic apparatus, coloration and patterning, and sex determination. Research conducted so far has focused almost exclusively on African cichlids. To analyse genomic diversity and selection in a Neotropical radiation, we conducted a comparative transcriptomic analysis between sympatric, ecologically divergent crater-lake Midas cichlids (Lake Xiloá Amphilophus amarillo and Amphilophus sagittae). We pyrosequenced (Roche 454) expressed sequence tag (EST) libraries and generated more than 178 000 000 ESTs and identified nine ESTs under positive selection between these sister species (Ka/Ks > 1). None of these ESTs were found to be under selection in African cichlids. Of 11 candidate genes for ecomorphological differentiation in African cichlids, none showed signs of selection between A. amarillo and A. sagittae. Although more population-level studies are now needed to thoroughly document patterns of divergence during speciation of cichlids, available information so far suggests that adaptive phenotypic diversification in Neotropical and African cichlids may be evolving through non-parallel genetic bases.
next-generation sequencing; cichlid fish; ecological speciation; coloration; body shape; expressed sequence tags
Speciation often occurs in complex or uncertain temporal and spatial contexts. Processes such as reinforcement, allopatric divergence, and assortative mating can proceed at different rates and with different strengths as populations diverge. The Central American Midas cichlid fish species complex is an important case study for understanding the processes of speciation. Previous analyses have demonstrated that allopatric processes led to species formation among the lakes of Nicaragua as well as sympatric speciation that is occurring within at least one crater lake. However, since speciation is an ongoing process and sampling genetic diversity of such lineages can be biased by collection scheme or random factors, it is important to evaluate the robustness of conclusions drawn on individual time samples.
In order to assess the validity and reliability of inferences based on different genetic samples, we have analyzed fish from several lakes in Nicaragua sampled at three different times over 16 years. In addition, this time series allows us to analyze the population genetic changes that have occurred between lakes, where allopatric speciation has operated, as well as between different species within lakes, some of which have originated by sympatric speciation. Focusing on commonly used genetic markers, we have analyzed both DNA sequences from the complete mitochondrial control region as well as nuclear DNA variation at ten microsatellite loci from these populations, sampled thrice in a 16 year time period, to develop a robust estimate of the population genetic history of these diversifying lineages.
The conclusions from previous work are well supported by our comprehensive analysis. In particular, we find that the genetic diversity of derived crater lake populations is lower than that of the source population regardless of when and how each population was sampled. Furthermore, changes in various estimates of genetic diversity within lakes are minimal and provide no evidence for drastic changes during the last 20 years, supporting the hypothesis that the processes which have resulted in rapid speciation are primarily historical. In contrast, there is some evidence for ongoing evolution, particularly selection, in all lakes except crater Lake Masaya, perhaps reflecting the persistence of speciational processes. Importantly, we find that the crater Lake Apoyo population, for which strong evidence of sympatric speciation has been demonstrated, has lower genetic diversity than other crater lakes and the strongest evidence for ongoing selection.
Lake Tanganyika is the oldest of the Great Ancient Lakes in the East Africa. This lake harbours about 250 species of cichlid fish, which are highly diverse in terms of morphology, behaviour, and ecology. Lake Tanganyika's cichlid diversity has evolved through explosive speciation and is treated as a textbook example of adaptive radiation, the rapid differentiation of a single ancestor into an array of species that differ in traits used to exploit their environments and resources. To elucidate the processes and mechanisms underlying the rapid speciation and adaptive radiation of Lake Tanganyika's cichlid species assemblage it is important to integrate evidence from several lines of research. Great efforts have been, are, and certainly will be taken to solve the mystery of how so many cichlid species evolved in so little time. In the present review, we summarize morphological studies that relate to the adaptive radiation of Lake Tanganyika's cichlids and highlight their importance for understanding the process of adaptive radiation.
Cichlid fishes are an excellent model system for studying speciation and the formation of adaptive radiations because of their tremendous species richness and astonishing phenotypic diversity. Most research has focused on African rift lake fishes, although Neotropical cichlid species display much variability as well. Almost one dozen species of the Midas cichlid species complex (Amphilophus spp.) have been described so far and have formed repeated adaptive radiations in several Nicaraguan crater lakes. Here we apply double-digest restriction-site associated DNA sequencing to obtain a high-density linkage map of an interspecific cross between the benthic Amphilophus astorquii and the limnetic Amphilophus zaliosus, which are sympatric species endemic to Crater Lake Apoyo, Nicaragua. A total of 755 RAD markers were genotyped in 343 F2 hybrids. The map resolved 25 linkage groups and spans a total distance of 1427 cM with an average marker spacing distance of 1.95 cM, almost matching the total number of chromosomes (n = 24) in these species. Regions of segregation distortion were identified in five linkage groups. Based on the pedigree of parents to F2 offspring, we calculated a genome-wide mutation rate of 6.6 × 10−8 mutations per nucleotide per generation. This genetic map will facilitate the mapping of ecomorphologically relevant adaptive traits in the repeated phenotypes that evolved within the Midas cichlid lineage and, as the first linkage map of a Neotropical cichlid, facilitate comparative genomic analyses between African cichlids, Neotropical cichlids and other teleost fishes.
Midas cichlid; double-digest RADSeq; synteny; segregation distortion; RAD markers; mutation rate
The polychromatic and trophically polymorphic Midas cichlid fish species complex (Amphilophus cf. citrinellus) is an excellent model system for studying the mechanisms of speciation and patterns of phenotypic diversification in allopatry and in sympatry. Here, we first review research to date on the species complex and the geological history of its habitat. We analyse body shape variation from all currently described species in the complex, sampled from six crater lakes (maximally 1.2–23.9 kyr old) and both great lakes in Nicaragua. We find that Midas cichlid populations in each lake have their own characteristic body shape. In lakes with multiple sympatric species of Midas cichlid, each species has a distinct body shape. Across the species complex, most body shape change relates to body depth, head, snout and mouth shape and caudal peduncle length. There is independent parallel evolution of an elongate limnetic species in at least two crater lakes. Mitochondrial genetic diversity is higher in crater lakes with multiple species. Midas cichlid species richness increases with the size and age of the crater lakes, though no such relationship exists for the other syntopic fishes. We suggest that crater lake Midas cichlids follow the predicted pattern of an adaptive radiation, with early divergence of each crater lake colonization, followed by intralacustrine diversification and speciation by ecological adaptation and sexual selection.
geometric morphometrics; mitochondrial DNA genetic diversity; ecomorphology; limnology; Mesoamerica; adaptive radiation
Female mate choice has often been proposed to play an important role in cases of rapid speciation, in particular in the explosively evolved haplochromine cichlid species flocks of the Great Lakes of East Africa. Little, if anything, is known in cichlid radiations about the heritability of female mating preferences. Entirely sympatric distribution, large ecological overlap and conspicuous differences in male nuptial coloration, and female preferences for these, make the sister species Pundamilia pundamilia and P. nyererei from Lake Victoria an ideally suited species pair to test assumptions on the genetics of mating preferences made in models of sympatric speciation. Female mate choice is necessary and sufficient to maintain reproductive isolation between these species, and it is perhaps not unlikely therefore, that female mate choice has been important during speciation. A prerequisite for this, which had remained untested in African cichlid fish, is that variation in female mating preferences is heritable. We investigated mating preferences of females of these sister species and their hybrids to test this assumption of most sympatric speciation models, and to further test the assumption of some models of sympatric speciation by sexual selection that female preference is a single-gene trait. We find that the differences in female mating preferences between the sister species are heritable, possibly with quite high heritabilities, and that few but probably more than one genetic loci contribute to this behavioural speciation trait with no apparent dominance. We discuss these results in the light of speciation models and the debate about the explosive radiation of cichlid fishes in Lake Victoria.
cichlid fish; genetics of reproductive isolation; female mating preference; Lake Victoria; sexual selection; sympatric speciation
Traditionally the rapid origin of megadiverse species flocks of extremely closely related species is explained by the combinatory action of three factors: Disruptive natural selection, disruptive sexual selection and partial isolation by distance. However, recent empirical data and theoretical advances suggest that the diversity of complex species assemblages is based at least partially on the hybridization of numerous ancestral allopatric lineages that formed hybrids upon invasion of new environments. That reticulate speciation within species flocks may occur under sympatric conditions after the primary formation of species has been proposed but not been tested critically.
We reconstructed the phylogeny of a complex cichlid species flock confined to the tiny Cameroonian crater lake Barombi Mbo using both mitochondrial and nuclear (AFLP) data. The nuclear phylogeny confirms previous findings which suggested the monophyly and sympatric origin of the flock. However, discordant intra-flock phylogenies reconstructed from mitochondrial and nuclear data suggest strongly that secondary hybridization among lineages that primarily diverged under sympatric conditions had occurred. Using canonical phylogenetic ordination and tree-based tests we infer that hybridization of two ancient lineages resulted in the formation of a new and ecologically highly distinct species, Pungu maclareni.
Our findings show that sympatric hybrid speciation is able to contribute significantly to the evolution of complex species assemblages even without the prior formation of hybrids derived from allopatrically differentiated lineages.
The polytypic Nicaraguan Midas cichlids (Amphilophus cf. citrinellus) have been established as a model system for studying the mechanisms of speciation and patterns of diversification in allopatry and sympatry. The species assemblage in Crater Lake Apoyo has been accepted as a textbook example for sympatric speciation. Here, we present a first comprehensive data set of population genetic (mtDNA & AFLPs) proxies of species level differentiation for a representative set of individuals of all six endemic Amphilophus species occurring in Crater Lake Apoyo. AFLP genetic differentiation was partitioned into a neutral and non-neutral component based on outlier-loci detection approaches, and patterns of species divergence were explored with Bayesian clustering methods. Substantial levels of admixture between species were detected, indicating different levels of reproductive isolation between the six species. Analysis of neutral genetic variation revealed several A. zaliosus as being introgressed by an unknown contributor, hereby rendering the sympatrically evolving L. Apoyo flock polyphyletic. This is contrasted by the mtDNA analysis delivering a clear monophyly signal with Crater Lake Apoyo private haplotypes characterising all six described species, but also demonstrating different demographic histories as inferred from pairwise mismatch distributions.
Introduced species represent one of the most serious global threats to biodiversity. In this field-based study, we assessed behavioural responses of brood tending cichlid fish to an invasive predator of their offspring. This was achieved by comparing parental defence responses of the endangered arrow cichlid (Amphilophus zaliosus), a fish species endemic to the crater lake Apoyo in Nicaragua, towards the bigmouth sleeper (Gobiomorus dormitor), a formidable predator of cichlid fry, and all other potential fish predators of offspring. The bigmouth sleeper was recently introduced into Apoyo but naturally co-exists with cichlids in a few other Nicaraguan lakes. Arrow cichlid parents allowed bigmouth sleepers to advance much closer to their fry than other predators before initiating aggressive brood defence behaviours. Interestingly, parents of a very closely related species, A. sagittae, which has coevolved with bigmouth sleepers in crater lake Xiloá, reacted to approaching bigmouth sleepers at comparable distances as to other predators of cichlid fry. These results provide a novel demonstration of the specific mechanism (i.e. naive parental behaviour) by which invasive predators may negatively affect species that lack the adequate behavioural repertoire.
A theoretical model is studied to investigate the possibility of sympatric speciation driven by sexual selection and ecological diversification. In particular we focus on the rock-dwelling haplochromine cichlid species in Lake Victoria. The high speciation rate in these cichlids has been explained by their apparent ability to specialize rapidly to a large diversity of feeding niches. Seehausen and colleagues however, demonstrated the importance of sexual selection in maintaining reproductive barriers between species. Our individual-orientated model integrates both niche differentiation and a Fisherian runaway process, which is limited by visibility constraints. The model shows rapid sympatric speciation or extinction of species, depending on the strength of sexual selection.
Five closely related species of fossil cichlids collected from an Eocene site in Tanzania, East Africa, represent the oldest known cichlids. The specimens are whole-body, articulated fishes that are extremely well preserved and, therefore, have the potential to add to our knowledge of the history of this family. Modern cichlids are particularly well known for the numerous species flocks of the East African Great Lakes. A great deal of research is ongoing regarding all aspects of the fishes in these flocks, including their evolutionary history The new collection of fossils reported here is interpreted as representing a species flock that arose in a small crater lake. These fossils indicate that cichlids' ability to form species flocks evolved early in the history of this family.
Elucidation of the mechanisms driving speciation requires detailed knowledge about the phylogenetic relationships and phylogeography of the incipient species within their entire ranges as well as their colonization history. The Midas cichlid species complex Amphilophus spp. has been proven to be a powerful model system for the study of ecological specialization, sexual selection and the mechanisms of sympatric speciation. Here we present a comprehensive and integrative phylogeographic analysis of the complete Midas Cichlid species complex in Nicaragua (> 2000 individuals) covering the entire distributional range, using two types of molecular markers (the mitochondrial DNA control region and 15 microsatellites). We investigated the majority of known lake populations of this species complex and reconstructed their colonization history in order to distinguish between alternative speciation scenarios.
We found that the large lakes contain older and more diverse Midas Cichlid populations, while all crater lakes hold younger and genetically less variable species assemblages. The large lakes appear to have repeatedly acted as source populations for all crater lakes, and our data indicate that faunal exchange among crater lakes is extremely unlikely. Despite their very recent (often only a few thousand years old) and common origin from the two large Nicaraguan lakes, all crater lake Midas Cichlid radiations underwent independent, but parallel, evolution, and comprise distinct genetic units. Indeed several of these crater lakes contain multiple genetically distinct incipient species that most likely arose through sympatric speciation. Several crater lake radiations can be traced back to a single ancestral line, but some appear to have more than one founding lineage. The timing of the colonization(s) of each crater lake differs, although most of them occurred more (probably much more) recently than 20,000 years ago.
The genetic differentiation of the crater lake populations is directly related to the number of founding lineages, but independent of the timing of colonization. Interestingly, levels of phenotypic differentiation, and speciation events, appeared independent of both factors.
Ancient lakes are often collectively viewed as evolutionary hot spots of diversification. East Africa's Lake Tanganyika has long been the subject of scientific interest owing to dramatic levels of endemism in species as diverse as cichlid fishes, paludomid gastropods, decapod and ostracod crustaceans and poriferans. It is the largest and deepest of the African rift lakes, and its endemic fauna has been presented with a stable inland environment for over 10 Myr, offering unique opportunities for within-lake diversification. Although astonishing diversification has been documented in the endemic cichlid fauna of the lake, similar patterns of rapid diversification have long been assumed for other groups. In contrast to this hypothesis of rapid speciation, we show here that there has been no acceleration in the rate of speciation in the thalassoid gastropods of the lake following lake colonization. While limited within-lake speciation has occurred, the dramatic conchological diversity of gastropods presently found within the lake has evolved from at least four major lineages that pre-date its formation by as much as 40 Myr. At the same time, a widespread group of African gastropods appears to have evolved from taxa presently found in the lake. While Lake Tanganyika has been a cradle of speciation for cichlid fishes, it has also been an important evolutionary reservoir of gastropod lineages that have been extirpated outside the basin.
It has been suggested that sexual selection may have played a major role in the rapid evolution of hundreds of species of cichlid fishes in Lake Malawi. We report the results of a laboratory test of assortative mating among Lake Malawi cichlid fishes from five closely related geographical populations differing in male courtship colour. Paternity of clutches was tested using microsatellite DNA typing of offspring. Out of 1955 offspring typed, 1296 (66.3%) were sired by the male from the same population as the female, which is more than three times the rate expected if females do not differentiate among males of the different populations (20%). This result indicates that mate preferences of geographical races are strongly differentiated, consistent with the races representing incipient geographical species diverging under sexual selection exerted by female preferences for different male courtship colours.
Adaptation to different ecological environments is thought to drive ecological speciation. This phenomenon culminates in the radiations of cichlid fishes in the African Great Lakes. Multiple characteristic traits of cichlids, targeted by natural or sexual selection, are considered among the driving factors of these radiations. Parasites and pathogens have been suggested to initiate or accelerate speciation by triggering both natural and sexual selection. Three prerequisites for parasite-driven speciation can be inferred from ecological speciation theory. The first prerequisite is that different populations experience divergent infection levels. The second prerequisite is that these infection levels cause divergent selection and facilitate adaptive divergence. The third prerequisite is that parasite-driven adaptive divergence facilitates the evolution of reproductive isolation. Here we investigate the first and the second prerequisite in allopatric chromatically differentiated lineages of the rock-dwelling cichlid Tropheus spp. from southern Lake Tanganyika (Central Africa). Macroparasite communities were screened in eight populations belonging to five different colour morphs.
Parasite communities were mainly composed of acanthocephalans, nematodes, monogeneans, copepods, branchiurans, and digeneans. In two consecutive years (2011 and 2012), we observed significant variation across populations for infection with acanthocephalans, nematodes, monogeneans of the genera Gyrodactylus and Cichlidogyrus, and the copepod Ergasilus spp. Overall, parasite community composition differed significantly between populations of different colour morphs. Differences in parasite community composition were stable in time. The genetic structure of Tropheus populations was strong and showed a significant isolation-by-distance pattern, confirming that spatial isolation is limiting host dispersal. Correlations between parasite community composition and Tropheus genetic differentiation were not significant, suggesting that host dispersal does not influence parasite community diversification.
Subject to alternating episodes of isolation and secondary contact because of lake level fluctuations, Tropheus colour morphs are believed to accumulate and maintain genetic differentiation through a combination of vicariance, philopatric behaviour and mate discrimination. Provided that the observed contrasts in parasitism facilitate adaptive divergence among populations in allopatry (which is the current situation), and promote the evolution of reproductive isolation during episodes of sympatry, parasites might facilitate speciation in this genus.
Adaptive divergence; Ectoparasite; Endoparasite; Ecological speciation; Host-parasite associations; Natural selection; Parasite-driven speciation; Sexual selection
Mechanisms behind the explosive radiation of over 500 cichlid fish species from a single founding population in Lake Malawi during the last 700 000 years are poorly understood. Recent studies have suggested that the degree of population subdivision among the habitat patches within the lake may be responsible, but the evidence has been circumstantial: lack of a dispersal stage in haplochromine cichlids; genetic and colour variation among populations separated by large-scale geographical barriers; and fluctuating lake levels. One reason for the rapidity of speciation in these fishes may be that population subdivision is on a much finer scale than previously thought. Here we quantify the level of population subdivision and estimate migration at a scale of 700-1400 m, in order to investigate whether cichlid populations are sufficiently isolated from each other for allopatric divergence and perhaps speciation to take place. Using six microsatellite loci, we demonstrate the existence of highly significant genetic differentiation between subpopulations on adjacent headlands in each of four rock-dwelling haplochromine cichlid species. Our results suggest that these fish populations are divided into thousands of subunits among which genetic divergence is currently occurring, and that this may provide unprecedented opportunities for allopatric speciation.
Microsatellites Allopatric Speciation Malawi Cichlids Pseudotropheus
Allopatric speciation often yields ecologically equivalent sister species, so that their
secondary admixis enforces competition. The shores of Lake Tanganyika harbor about 120
distinct populations of the cichlid genus Tropheus, but only some are sympatric.
When alone, Tropheus occupies a relatively broad depth zone, but in sympatry,
fish segregate by depth. To assess the effects of competition, we studied the partial
co-occurrence of Tropheus moorii ‘Kaiser' and
‘Kirschfleck' with Tropheus polli. A previous study demonstrated via
standardized breeding experiments that some observed differences between Tropheus
‘Kaiser' living alone and in sympatry with T. polli have a genetic
basis despite large-scale phenotypic plasticity. Using geometric morphometrics and neutral
genetic markers, we now investigated whether sympatric populations differ consistently in
body shape from populations living alone and if the differences are adaptive. We found
significant differences in mean shape between non-sympatric and sympatric populations,
whereas all sympatric populations of both color morphs clustered together in shape space.
Sympatric populations had a relatively smaller head, smaller eyes and a more anterior
insertion of the pectoral fin than non-sympatric populations. Genetically, however,
non-sympatric and sympatric ‘Kaiser' populations clustered together to the
exclusion of ‘Kirschfleck'. Genetic distances, but not morphological
distances, were correlated with geographic distances. Within- and between-population
covariance matrices for T. moorii populations deviated from proportionality. It
is thus likely that natural selection acts on both phenotypic plasticity and heritable
traits and that both factors contribute to the observed shape differences. The consistency
of the pattern in five populations suggests ecological character displacement.
geometric morphometrics; shape variation; cichlid fishes;
How particular changes in functional morphology can repeatedly promote ecological diversification is an active area of evolutionary investigation. The African rift-lake cichlids offer a calibrated time series of the most dramatic adaptive radiations of vertebrate trophic morphology yet described, and the replicate nature of these events provides a unique opportunity to test whether common changes in functional morphology have repeatedly facilitated their ecological success.
Specimens from 87 genera of cichlid fishes endemic to Lakes Tanganyka, Malawi and Victoria were dissected in order to examine the functional morphology of cichlid feeding. We quantified shape using geometric morphometrics and compared patterns of morphological diversity using a series of analytical tests. The primary axes of divergence were conserved among all three radiations, and the most prevalent changes involved the size of the preorbital region of the skull. Even the fishes from the youngest of these lakes (Victoria), which exhibit the lowest amount of skull shape disparity, have undergone extensive preorbital evolution relative to other craniofacial traits. Such changes have large effects on feeding biomechanics, and can promote expansion into a wide array of niches along a bentho-pelagic ecomorphological axis.
Here we show that specific changes in trophic anatomy have evolved repeatedly in the African rift lakes, and our results suggest that simple morphological alterations that have large ecological consequences are likely to constitute critical components of adaptive radiations in functional morphology. Such shifts may precede more complex shape changes as lineages diversify into unoccupied niches. The data presented here, combined with observations of other fish lineages, suggest that the preorbital region represents an evolutionary module that can respond quickly to natural selection when fishes colonize new lakes. Characterizing the changes in cichlid trophic morphology that have contributed to their extraordinary adaptive radiations has broad evolutionary implications, and such studies are necessary for directing future investigations into the proximate mechanisms that have shaped these spectacular phenomena.
Divergence along a benthic to limnetic habitat axis is ubiquitous in aquatic systems. However, this type of habitat divergence has largely been examined in low diversity, high latitude lake systems. In this study, we examined the importance of benthic and limnetic divergence within the incredibly species-rich radiation of Lake Malawi cichlid fishes. Using novel phylogenetic reconstructions, we provided a series of hypotheses regarding the evolutionary relationships among 24 benthic and limnetic species that suggests divergence along this axis has occurred multiple times within Lake Malawi cichlids. Because pectoral fin morphology is often associated with divergence along this habitat axis in other fish groups, we investigated divergence in pectoral fin muscles in these benthic and limnetic cichlid species. We showed that the eight pectoral fin muscles and fin area generally tended to evolve in a tightly correlated manner in the Lake Malawi cichlids. Additionally, we found that larger pectoral fin muscles are strongly associated with the independent evolution of the benthic feeding habit across this group of fish. Evolutionary specialization along a benthic/limnetic axis has occurred multiple times within this tropical lake radiation and has produced repeated convergent matching between exploitation of water column habitats and locomotory morphology.
Adaptive radiation; African Great Lakes; aquatic locomotion; functional morphology; mbuna; utaka
Cichlid fishes have radiated into hundreds of species in the Great Lakes of Africa. Brightly colored males display on leks and vie to be chosen by females as mates. Strong discrimination by females causes differential male mating success, rapid evolution of male color patterns and, possibly, speciation. In addition to differences in color pattern, Lake Malawi cichlids also show some of the largest known shifts in visual sensitivity among closely related species. These shifts result from modulated expression of seven cone opsin genes. However, the mechanisms for this modulated expression are unknown.
In this work, we ask whether these differences might result from changes in developmental patterning of cone opsin genes. To test this, we compared the developmental pattern of cone opsin gene expression of the Nile tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus, with that of several cichlid species from Lake Malawi. In tilapia, quantitative polymerase chain reaction showed that opsin gene expression changes dynamically from a larval gene set through a juvenile set to a final adult set. In contrast, Lake Malawi species showed one of two developmental patterns. In some species, the expressed gene set changes slowly, either retaining the larval pattern or progressing only from larval to juvenile gene sets (neoteny). In the other species, the same genes are expressed in both larvae and adults but correspond to the tilapia adult genes (direct development).
Differences in visual sensitivities among species of Lake Malawi cichlids arise through heterochronic shifts relative to the ontogenetic pattern of the tilapia outgroup. Heterochrony has previously been shown to be a powerful mechanism for change in morphological evolution. We found that altering developmental expression patterns is also an important mechanism for altering sensory systems. These resulting sensory shifts will have major impacts on visual communication and could help drive cichlid speciation.
Lake Victoria, the largest tropical lake in the world, suffers from severe eutrophication and the probable extinction of up to half of its 500+ species of endemic cichlid fishes. The continuing degradation of Lake Victoria's ecological functions has serious long-term consequences for the ecosystem services it provides, and may threaten social welfare in the countries bordering its shores. Evaluation of recent ecological changes in the context of aquatic food-web alterations, catchment disturbance and natural ecosystem variability has been hampered by the scarcity of historical monitoring data. Here, we present high-resolution palaeolimnological data, which show that increases in phytoplankton production developed from the 1930s onwards, which parallels human-population growth and agricultural activity in the Lake Victoria drainage basin. Dominance of bloom-forming cyanobacteria since the late 1980s coincided with a relative decline in diatom growth, which can be attributed to the seasonal depletion of dissolved silica resulting from 50 years of enhanced diatom growth and burial. Eutrophication-induced loss of deep-water oxygen started in the early 1960s, and may have contributed to the 1980s collapse of indigenous fish stocks by eliminating suitable habitat for certain deep-water cichlids. Conservation of Lake Victoria as a functioning ecosystem is contingent upon large-scale implementation of improved land-use practices.
High-throughput culturing (HTC) methods that rely on dilution to extinction in very-low-nutrient media were used to obtain bacterial isolates from Crater Lake, Oregon. 16S rRNA sequence determination and phylogenetic reconstruction were used to determine the potential ecological significance of isolated bacteria, both in Crater Lake and globally. Fifty-five Crater Lake isolates yielded 16 different 16S rRNA gene sequences. Thirty of 55 (55%) Crater Lake isolates had 16S rRNA gene sequences with 97% or greater similarity to sequences recovered previously from Crater Lake 16S rRNA gene clone libraries. Furthermore, 36 of 55 (65%) Crater Lake isolates were found to be members of widely distributed freshwater groups. These results confirm that HTC is a significant improvement over traditional isolation techniques that tend to enrich for microorganisms that do not predominate in their environment and rarely correlate with 16S rRNA gene clone library sequences. Although all isolates were obtained under dark, heterotrophic growth conditions, 2 of the 16 different groups showed evidence of photosynthetic capability as assessed by the presence of puf operon sequences, suggesting that photoheterotrophy may be a significant process in this oligotrophic, freshwater habitat.
Allopatric divergence in peripheral habitats may lead to rapid evolution of populations with novel phenotypes. In this study we provide the first evidence that isolation in peripheral habitats may have played a critical role in generation of Lake Malawi's cichlid fish diversity. We show that Lake Chilingali, a satellite lake 11.5 km from the shore of Lake Malawi, contains a breeding population of Rhamphochromis, a predatory genus previously thought to be restricted to Lake Malawi and permanently connected water bodies. The Lake Chilingali population is the smallest known Rhamphochromis, has a unique male nuptial colour pattern and has significant differentiation in mitochondrial DNA from Lake Malawi species. In laboratory mate choice trials with a candidate sister population from Lake Malawi, females showed a strong tendency to mate assortatively indicating that they are incipient biological species. These data support the hypothesis that isolation and reconnection of peripheral habitats due to lake level changes have contributed to the generation of cichlid diversity within African lakes. Such cycles of habitat isolation and reconnection may also have been important in evolutionary diversification of numerous other abundant and wide-ranging aquatic organisms, such as marine fishes and invertebrates.
peripatric speciation; adaptation; sexual selection; morphometrics; mitochondrial DNA; growth rates